Written by Lynn Cullen, Illustrated by Nancy Carpenter
Dial Books for Young Readers, 2015
1st April, 1796
Dear Mr. Washington,
I am Sorry for what happened to your hair Ribbon when you came to our house for Father to paint your Picture.
The plot in a nutshell: An artist’s daughter corresponds with George Washington.
Charlotte Stuart writes to George Washington apologizing for all the trouble that happened when he came to their house to sit for a portrait by her father, artist Gilbert Stuart. She also thanks him for sending along the book on Rules of Good Behavior for Boys and Girls and lists them out for him, promising to follow them when he comes back for his next portrait sitting. When he does come back, Charlotte and her brothers follow the rules as closely as they can, but things still don’t go perfectly (and Washington still doesn’t smile) and she writes him again to apologize. She writes him again after he visits for the final time, telling him that she is glad that he was able to smile at some of the antics of her and the boys and that his portrait has turned out well.
Author Lynn Cullen adds an author’s note with some historical context for this story and I thought it was really cool. Apparently, the father of our country didn’t like having his portrait painted and Gilbert Stuart had a hard time getting him to smile for the portrait. He discovered that Washington generally smiled when talking about horses and he used that to his advantage when painting his three portraits, one of which is the one featured on the dollar bill. He actually had twelve children, so Ms. Cullen imagined a scenario in which his children interacted with the founding father. It’s a fun premise. The note also mentions Washington’s Rules of Civility and Decent Behavior in Company and Conversation, which is a book I enjoy (and keep on my Kindle for reference).
Nancy Carpenter’s illustrations are a mix of pen on paper, acrylic paint on canvas and digital media and the combination just makes the book more fun. The drawings of the children are full of comic touches and you just have to laugh at the youngest brother constantly trying to eat Washington’s shoes. But my favorite pictures are the canvas illustrations that accompany the behavior rules, using more cartoonish versions of Washington. The final portraits are included in the author’s note and I feel like I know more about them now, after reading this enjoyable book.
And what did we learn? What I take away from this book is that rules are important and following them is good, but making a personal connection with someone is even better.